Lucknow was once described as 'the last example of the old pomp and refinement of Hindustan, ' Both culturally and architecturally it still remains one of the most interesting cities of north India. This book is one of the first to comprehensively examine the fascinating interaction between two cultures-the British and the nawabi-which resulted in the creation of a curious grandeur at Lucknow. Besides touching on the political aspects of nawabi rule in the province of Oudh, the author discusses the ethos and architecture of Lucknow in its heyday: between the period of the first nawab in the early eighteenth century, and the last nawab who was deposed by the British in 1856.
Rosie Llewellyn-Jones is Archives and Records Officer at South Bank University, London. She studied Urdu at the School of Oriental and African Studies, London, and obtained her Ph.D. for research on Lucknow from there. She is also the author of A Very Ingenious Man: Claude Martin in Early Colonial India.
In 1972 I visited Lucknow for a week during a degree course in Urdu at London University. Attracted there by reading Maulana Sharar's Guzashta Laknau, his romanticized picture made the nawabi city appeal to me as a place worth seeing for a few days. Little of the city he described so nostalgically remained, though the battered palaces and the ruined Residency site hinted at a town of more solid importance than he had drawn. Oddly, no serious guide books were available to the casual tourist and those found concentrated almost solely on the siege of the city in 1857, as though the town had only briefly sprung into existence and faded from the map during a single year. True, there was mention of earlier nawabi buildings like the Great Imambara and brief references to the extraordinary Indo-European palaces of the eccentric Frenchman Claude Martin, but nothing of real worth to satisfy the mind and explain the origins and demise of so many fine buildings in and around the city. Returning to London I sought out the guide books I could not find in India, only to realize that what I wanted did not exist. So curiosity impelled me to begin my own researches in 1974.
There was no lack of descriptions of the city by western writers, beginning with the commentary of Jose ph Tieffenthaler, a Jesuit priest, in 1766, but followed over the next two hundred years by such a torrent of criticism of the architecture and social mores of Lucknow (one nineteenth-century writer solemnly compared it to Sodom and Gomorrah) that at times it seemed impossible to reconcile the two Lucknows-the battered and melancholic old city that exists today and the glittering, wicked one lost forever after the British annexation of Oudh in 1856.
How could mere buildings excite such vituperation from writers, politicians and architects? Why was such a dreadful revenge visited on speechless monuments of brick and stucco when the British East India Company marched in as victors in 1858? Gradually I perceived that the answer lay in the fact that Lucknow's buildings were the outward symbol of what the British imagined to be wrong with the city and what the nawabs believed to be right and beautiful. Simply stated, this premise became honed and refined during the course of research until I arrived at the term 'political architecture' to describe urban buildings erected during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries by both Indian rulers (the nawabs) and
putative rulers (the Company).
Though only one town was examined, similar studies of Indian towns during this period would undoubtedly exhibit many of the same motives for the development of a colonial city. But by a happy chance Lucknow was an almost perfect microcosm of a city in transition during that period of British
intervention. It was a flourishing medieval city. It received a tremendous impetus with the arrival from Iran of the nawabi family, which brought vigorous new ideas and culture at the exact time when they had enough political freedom and unlimited wealth to impose their values on the city. It also provided a prime example of British interference in such a city before total colonial control was assumed. A hundred years earlier and Lucknow would have been no more than a medieval curiosity like Jaunpur. A hundred years later the nawabi dynasty could not have existed. It is the interplay between the nawabs and the Company, each jostling to impose their own world view on Lucknow, which continues to fascinate.
The British contribution itself was made up of three separate elements which are closely examined in this book-the need for a military base (at first nominally under the nawabs' command), a civic and administrative centre for the expanding activities of the British Resident (again originally under the nawabs' auspices) and the eclectic talents of the European adventurers who rightly judged Lucknow to be a richly exploitable city. The ascension and decline of all these elements (except that of British civic administration after 1856), which can be traced in the city's buildings over the last two hundred
years, as well as the gradual usurpation of nawabi authority by the British and consequent slipping away of real power from the Indian rulers, demonstrated by the city's buildings, would have provided sufficient material for a book. But two other important facets emerged that are perhaps the most intriguing of all. Given the furious though ultimately unsuccessful attempts of the nawabs to slough off British interference in the city’s affairs, why did they at the same time wish to flatter and impress the west with their own interpretations of 'classical' European architecture, so that by the mid-nineteenth century Lucknow often reminded Europeans of handsome western cities like Oxford, Dresden or Leningrad, albeit with an 'Oriental' touch? In some cases, as will be shown, the nawabs had been blackmailed and coerced into creating such buildings, often to the direct advantage of the East India Company, who subsequently used them for their own purposes. But there were many other 'classical' structures erected entirely spontaneously by the nawabs, who would eo-opt Company engineers for their construction. The nawabs' motives are carefully considered in this book, but if one was to engage in the fruitless task of apportioning blame for the demise of the city as an indigenous organism one would have to indict the nawabs almost as much as the British for their acillating, half-hearted attempt to keep the city purely Indian. It was as if the nawabs had said: 'we can create our own vision of a nineteenth century European city more splendid than the Company officials could imagine or execute'. And they did. Unhampered by spatial considerations or social concerns they neglected the old medieval city of Lucknow to produce a series of handsome palaces, religious buildings, gardens and broad streets along the banks of the river Gomti. But ironically their beautification of Lucknow (as they perceived it) attracted some of the bitterest criticism from European commentators and led ultimately to the semi-ruinous state of much of the southern Gomti bank today.
The nawabi exuberance of exploiting newly discovered 'classical' European architecture to create an Indo-European style produced chiefly sneers from western visitors who believed that the nawabs had simply tried to imitate European buildings and failed because they did not understand the rules of Palladian architecture. With little or no hindsight of the complicated network which had led to the production of such buildings, it seemed to the critics one further example of the nawabs' superficial 'westernization' and extravagance, adding another argument to the belief that the problem of 'Oudh could only be resolved by annexation and sensible management of
the province by British rule.
It was an unhappy coincidence that one of the most protracted sieges of the 1857 uprising took place in Lucknow. With perfect justification the British were then able to demolish large tracts of building when they regained control in 1858 in order to make the city defensible for themselves, and to express their contempt for the creators of Lucknow-whom they unjustly blamed for the dreadful loss of British life during the uprising. It is surprising that a number of nawabi buildings still survive in Lucknow at all today. Only from a study of photographs and drawings made before the Company sappers moved in with dynamite can an idea of nawabi Lucknow be gained. Much has also been lost or irretrievably altered since Independence. This book endeavours to rebuild the city before 1856, to people it with both the Indians and the Europeans who created it, to examine the motives and dreams of its builders, and to reflect on the political strategy that used architecture as its ammunition.
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